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Article 152 of the Singapore Constitution guarantees the right of Malays as the indigenous people of the country as well as the government’s responsibility “to protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests and the Malay language”. But history suggests otherwise.
Malays occupy a lower socio-economic standing compared to others. This was not the case in the years preceding and during Singapore’s short-lived merger with Malaysia from 1963 to 1965.
Then the PAP was actively courting the Malays to establish its credentials as a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-lingual party. Hence our national anthem and the commands in the armed forces in the Malay language.
But now all this has come to be mere lip-service even though Malay remains our national language. Not only that, a number of policies are discriminatory in nature, going against the grain of the government’s stated policy on meritocracy.
In 1980 the government introduced the “Special Assistance Plan” (SAP) policy at secondary school level. The programme targeted top-scoring primary school students to attend a more demanding academic curriculum.
Though a noble idea, up till today this tax-payers’ funded programme is only available to ten Chinese-medium high schools. Amongst which is Hwa Chong Institution which is still a private school.
These Chinese-medium schools promote the Chinese culture, language and tradition. There is nothing wrong in promoting the Chinese culture or language but the other languages and cultures in Singapore should also be similarly promoted.
Four years later in 1984, the government set up the Gifted Education Programme (GEP). This was the primary school version of the SAP. Such schools enjoy greater flexibility in their management while receiving higher state-funding assistance at the same time.
Looking back, the British colonial government provided free education for the Malays in Singapore.
The first Malay school in Singapore was established by the British in 1856. By 1963, this figure stood at 41.
A further 26 schools were functioning as dual Malay-English medium schools. A model that the PAP government would later copy for the Chinese schools.
The likes of Tun Sri Lanang and Sang Nila Utama schools were the Malay equivalent of Hwa Chong and Nan Hua schools. Today, none of these Malay schools exist.
Though there is little evidence to show that the PAP Government holds malicious intent towards Malays, the idea of unfairness is not far-fetched.
The Malays in Singapore should be able to live with dignity and have the right to self-determination. Even if the state chooses not to render special assistance for the Malays, their legitimate needs shouldn’t be neglected or marginalized.
Future governments of Singapore can still make amends and adjust the state policies where racial or language preferences are at play.
These adjustments should include opening up SAP schools to all by changing their curriculum and passing anti-discrimination laws akin to those in countries like Canada and Australia which prohibit companies from discriminating on the basis of race or language.
After all, our national anthem is still “Majulah Singapura” which, by the way, means “Onward Singapore” in Malay.
Warren Masilamony is a member of the Young Democrats. He is presently working as a television editor in Toronto, Canada.